E-mail marketing costs nothing and can reap rewards, but you have to put in the groundwork in order to make it succeed. Paul Clapham runs through the do's and don'ts.
E‑mail marketing is the 21st century marketer's star turn. It can be done for zero cost. You can fulfil it sitting at your desk. You can use it as a mass campaign or a regular daily activity. You can target it very tightly. You can change your message as often as you see fit. It can reach the whole world. So how come you're not pig rich?
The simple answer is that many hospitality operators - just like other businesses - do it poorly. Ask yourself: "why should someone open my e‑mail and then read it?" It's like direct mail, but with the major difference that you know who sent it and you absolutely know there isn't going to be a cheque in it. More than that, most people don't work it as hard as they could.
Everyone in the hospitality business should aim to collect contact details - that's obvious - but e‑mail addresses are the easiest to collect. A simple example would be a free draw, based on the entrant's e‑mail address. You could do this daily, weekly or monthly. Have one winner, but 100 losers who get an e‑mail with a deal.
There are technical issues. One size doesn't fit all. Microsoft Outlook 2007 - a very popular e‑mail platform - broke with standards of compatibility. Older software like Lotus Notes doesn't display background images, so if your words are embedded in an image recipients won't see them. Likewise Gmail and Hotmail users see e‑mails very differently. Without taking such issues into account, you can design an e‑mailer that just doesn't work for a lot of recipients.
Then there's our old friend spam. In the first place, spam has the potential negative impact of burying your valuable, useful message among a pile of digital dross and there's little you can do about that. Happily, most people use a spam filter, which helps solve that problem, but in the process creates another. By their nature, spam filters are a blunt instrument and there are many words and phrases they block, such as "free", "please read", "no strings attached", "no obligation", and "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity".
ExactTarget has undertaken research which shows that although 80% of marketers want to communicate with customers how they wish, only 12% ask how often they want an e‑mail. You'll be pleased to know that we're ahead of the game in the UK compared with Europe, as in twice as likely to use e‑mail marketing well.
Don't assume that, because almost everybody has broadband, you can merrily send out 5MB e‑mails. First, those who are still using dial-up will loathe you and second, a shorter, slicker message delivers better results.
WHAT'S THE SUBJECT?
Probably the biggest failing is not paying enough attention to the subject line. If your e‑mail address is unknown to the reader - as it typically will be - that subject line has to do all the work of persuading the reader not to hit Delete and to read your words. But just have a look at the e‑mails you receive and see how unstimulating the subjects are.
Start with getting that subject line right so the message gets opened. A nice simple solution is to put the recipient's name in it. This is friendly and helps avoid spam filters. Another example is: "We miss you and we want you back". Nice. It would work as long as you had already done business with them.
I saw a message from a broadband supplier, asking the customer to "take a quick peek at what we can do for you"; apart from "peek" being horribly cute, the tone was right. Incidentally, the message was duly short and snappy.
In the hospitality trade, work "free" to death: free third night in a weekend deal, free starter in a meal deal, free room on your birthday (return visit, obviously).
BUILD YOUR RECIPIENT LIST
Build your own list of recipients. While it is very tempting to buy in lists it is also risky. You can have no certain way of knowing that the named person has given permission for their address to be used. It is far more valuable to contact 100 people who are interested than 1,000 who could be irritated by getting your e‑mail. A list of people who had stands at a local exhibition would be appropriate but a list of visitors might not.
Tight targeting is not just a nice feature of e‑mail marketing; it's an essential. If you know what brought the customer to you - and you should - send them the details of the same or similar offers and events next time round.
How often do you e‑mail a customer? There is no magic answer although you can send far more messages than was traditionally thought wise. There is a nice easy solution - ask your customers. You may find that you can send very regularly, especially if you promise to feature new and relevant offers. This applies especially to business customers. They may well book visitors/contractors/interviewees into the hotel that stays in touch best, rather than the one with the best deal.
CALL IN THE EXPERTS
Do you need an expert? Surely not! We all know how to create e‑mails, don't we? Yes, we do and that's why so much e‑mail marketing is next door to garbage. Interestingly, it's not just the marketing consultants specialising in this area who say that a properly designed e‑mailer works far better - the same advice comes from suppliers of data services and associated technology. In particular, the advice is to get a copywriter to create the words and especially the subject line.
If you doubt this, look at the website for e‑mail marketeers (www.campaignmonitor.com) and check their design guidelines. They are actually written for professional designers and the extent of the technical glitches you need to overcome is eye-opening. Look too at the examples of campaigns for inspiration for your own strategy.
In any case, if you are serious about e‑mail campaigning, use the services of a professional. The core of this will be reporting. You can establish who is opening your e‑mail, who deleted it, which parts of your message they are studying, who unsubscribed and so on. All of those features add dramatically to e‑mail marketing when compared with normal direct mail.
SEVEN STEPS TO MAKE E-MAIL MARKETING WORK
● Use incentives to collect data - for example, a free draw with the condition that entrants provide e‑mail addresses
● Take into account compatability issues when creating an e‑mail, and don't overcomplicate it
● Choose wording carefully so as not to trigger spam software
● Make the message short and slick. Don't jam your potential customer's inbox with large files
● Make the subject work. It's the first thing your customer will see so make sure they don't hit delete
● Build your own list. Fewer people you know are interested is preferable to many who aren't
● Get a copywriter to create the words, especially the subject line